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Battle of the Titans: Promise SuperTrak 100 vs. 3Ware Escalade 6400


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Battle of the Titans: Promise SuperTrak 100 vs. 3Ware Escalade 6400
  February 14, 2001 Author: Terry Baranski  

Confused? The StorageReview.com RAID Guide explains all!


The SuperTrak 100...

Promise's SuperTrak line of cards has recently drawn significant interest from the online community. Although introduced in 1998, the SuperTrak languished in obscurity. A year later came the SuperTrak-66, again without much fanfare. Then, last September, Promise announced the 3rd generation SuperTrak-100.

SuperTrak 100 Specifications:

  • PCI (v.2.1) card with onboard CPU and cache memory;
  • Up to 6 Ultra ATA/100 drives (up to 128GB each; six independent and active data channels);
  • 32-bit onboard Intel i960 RD RISC;
  • Supports up to 128MB cache with one 72-pin EDO SIMM (Units ship with 16MB memory included);
  • RAID Levels 5, 4, 3, 1, 0, 01 and JBOD;
  • "Hot spare" capability;
  • Up to 5000 I/Os per second (cache);
  • Up to 1000 I/Os per second (non-cache);
  • Up to 133MB/sec burst data transfers over PCI bus;
  • Stripe size selectable from 1K to 1MB;
  • Automatic failed drive detect and transparent drive rebuild; audible alarms; supports SMART-capable drives for predictive failure analysis; Windows GUI allows viewing, creating, and deleting arrays; access by Internet; alerts users(s) by e-mail on errors;
  • Elevator seek, tagged command queuing, hardware scatter-gather engine, load balancing;
  • Windows NT4.x / 2000 support;
  • Random block storage class I/O platform with HDM and ISM that conforms to I20 spec 1.5;
  • Complete UDMA CRC error-checking support; NVRAM creates write log for data parity coherency;
  • 2-year warranty

The SuperTrak-100 immediately caught enthusiast community's attention, hardly surprising considering the card's specifications. After all, a 6-channel, ATA-100 RAID 0/1/01/3/4/5 card with 16MB of on-board cache and hot-swap support is quite a feat, especially when the ATA RAID community as a whole had previously been used to much less expensive, less feature-rich controllers.

The Card...

The first thing one is likely to notice is the SuperTrak100's sheer size. The controller's full-length design permits a board that features six IDE connectors, three ATA-100 ASICs, and an Intel i960 processor.

Included with the card are the following items:

  • Six single-connector, 80-conductor, 18" ATA cables;
  • 100+ page user manual (can be downloaded here);
  • Driver and utility disks;
  • Three SuperSwap hot-swap drive enclosures (SuperTrak Pro only)

The Software...

RAID arrays can be created, viewed, and deleted via the SuperTrak-100's BIOS (a.k.a. SuperBuild). Arrays may be created manually (allowing more user control) or via what Promise calls "Auto Setup." The user may also assign one or more drives as a hot spare as well as designating a bootable array.

The package also includes software for remote monitoring and configuration of arrays. The utility, SuperCheck, permits creation and deletion of arrays and configuration of several array parameters. Read and write cache may be independently toggled and several cache-policy settings may also be set. These include "flush frequency timer" (the amount of time a block of data written to the cache can remain there until it is written - i.e., flushed - to the drives), "dirty threshold flush start" (when the percentage of dirty blocks in the cache exceeds the threshold, flushing begins automatically), and dirty threshold flush stop (Flushing stops when the percentage of dirty blocks in the cache falls below this threshold.) In this review, all of the above cache policy parameters were left at their default settings (2 seconds, 50%, and 5%, respectively).

SuperCheck also displays array statistics such as individual drive information, SuperSwap fan/temperature information, and a plethora of cache statistics such as read hits, write hits, dirty usage, and the number of I/O requests made to the drives themselves (i.e., cache misses).

SuperCheck allows remote monitoring of all SuperTrak arrays as long as the machine housing the array is accessible from the remote location (either directly, or via another machine running the Message Server utility). The utility also includes an email-alert notification feature that sends a message to your email address if a drive and/or array connected to the SuperTrak fails. This feature is very common on SCSI RAID cards; few deny its usefulness.

Finally, the SuperCheck facilitates array synchronization. This feature compares two mirrored drives sector by sector to ensure that they are identical. If they aren't, data from the primary drive is automatically copied to the secondary drive. The user may also schedule synchronizations for a later time.

 The Escalade 6400...


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